SALT LAKE CITY – The State of Utah plans to spend $4.5 million to more than double the number of compressed natural gas (CNG) cars and gasoline-electric hybrids in its more than 7,400-unit fleet, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Over the next 14 months, officials plan to buy 26 new CNG vehicles and convert nearly 100 units from gasoline-burning engines to run on natural gas.
The fleet also plans to buy a total of 343 new hybrid sedans - either the Toyota Prius or the Chevrolet Malibu - over that same period.
Salt Lake County, however, hasn't started moving toward natural gas because of high infrastructure costs, said Greg Nuzman, associated director of the county fleet.
The total upgrade will cost the state $4 million more than buying traditional gasoline-powered cars, but Margaret Chambers, director of the state's Division of Fleet Operations, said the state save money over the life of the cars. Now that gas prices have dropped, the state's investment in teh alt-fuel vehicles will take longer, but there will be savings, Chambers said. The CNG and hybrid cars also have a higher resale value at the end of their lifecycle.
About a decade ago, the state started making a push to convert the entire fleet to natural gas cars, but a lack of natural gas refueling stations around the state made the cars impractical to use, said Chambers.
Chambers said her goal is to purchase an alternative-fuel vehicle whenever it is an option - no substitutes are available for some diesel engines or other vehicles - and to find a balance between natural gas and hybrid cars.
The natural gas vehicles are deployed primarily in urban areas where most of the refueling stations are located. The state is trying to beef up its refueling network, using $500,000 from the Legislature to upgrade three stations, a response to the demand when the state opened its fueling stations to the public.